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Household-name alumni artists such as Bill Henson, Patricia Piccinini, Sally Smart, and Rick Amor have donated works for the exhibition, which spans generations of Australia’s most beloved and collectable practitioners.
The works will be sold during the exhibition, some at generously reduced prices, to fund a new scholarship for VCA student artists and recent graduates.
Elizabeth Gower, curator of 9x5 NOW and one of the show’s contributing artists, described the response from artists as “overwhelmingly enthusiastic”.
"It’s both a privilege and a challenge to curate this significant exhibition of works by more than 300 eminent alumni and staff,” she said. “The most experienced artist represented attended the National Gallery School in the 1950s, and the youngest completed studies at the VCA just one year ago.”
The 9x5 title references the original exhibition of Impressionist works held at the Buxton Galleries, Melbourne, in 1889, which included the work of key Australian Impressionist artists Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Conder, all graduates of the National Gallery of Victoria Art School. The artworks were painted on cigar box lids and the title of the exhibition is derived from the dimensions of those works (nine inches by five inches).
Each contributing artist to 9x5 NOW was sent a nine-by-five-inch plywood board. Gower said the works, which continue to be submitted from across Australia and overseas, reflect “diverse contemporary approaches to photography, drawing, text, mixed media and painting. Some artists have stretched the criteria and made works about the board itself, casting, cutting, manipulating and extending it three-dimensionally. This will be a milestone exhibition."
9x5 NOW is one of the highlights of ART150, a year-long program of events, interviews and expert commentary to celebrate 150 years of art in Melbourne at the VCA and its predecessor institutions – a lineage that began with the establishment of the National Gallery of Victoria Art School in 1867.
Director of the Margaret Lawrence Gallery Dr David Sequeira said there was already palpable excitement for the exhibition.
“What makes 9x5 NOW exciting and fun is the diversity of expression,” he said.
“It’s rare that so many artistic styles are found in the same exhibition and we’re thrilled to be hosting it in the Margaret Lawrence Gallery. With more than 300 participating artists, this is certainly one of the biggest and most complex projects we have undertaken.
“It’s wonderful that the MLG will be a meeting place for VCA alumni from across eight decades and that proceeds from sales will assist a new generation of Australian art students.”
The rollcall of leading artists exhibiting in 9x5 NOW includes Peter Booth, Ash Keating, Minna Gilligan, Fred Fowler, Jon Campbell, Emily Floyd, Esther Stewart, Kathy Temin, Anastasia Klose, Jenny Watson, Kate Tucker, Tai Snaith, Kirsty Budge, Stelarc, Laith McGregor, Lewis Miller, Melinda Harper, Natasha Johns-Messenger, Celeste Chandler, Sophia Hewson, Steven Rhall, Sangeeta Sandrasegar, Veronica Kent, Darren Sylvester, Prudence Flint, Kenny Pittock, Damiano Bertoli, Susan Norrie, Jacqui Stockdale, and Megan Evans.
The exhibition program also includes artist talks, tours and a one-day symposium.
The ART150: 9x5 NOW Exhibition will be open to the public from 16 June at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Southbank, Melbourne.